Blood and Moonlight by Erin Beaty (ARC Review)

Blood and Moonlight book cover

Information

Goodreads: Blood and Moonlight
Series: None
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Netgalley
Publication Date: June 28, 2022

Official Summary

In this medieval YA fantasy thriller, an orphan with a secret, magical sight gets caught between a mysterious genius and the serial killer he’s hunting.

Rising above the city of Collis is the holy Sanctum. And watching over its spires is Catrin, an orphan girl with unique skills—for she alone can spot the building’s flaws in construction before they turn deadly.

But when Catrin witnesses a murderer escaping the scene of his crime, she’s pulled into the web of a dangerous man who will definitely strike again. Assigned to capture the culprit is the mysterious, brilliant, and enigmatic Simon, whose insights into the mind of a killer are frighteningly accurate.

As the grisly crimes continue, Catrin finds herself caught between murderer and detective while hiding her own secret—a supernatural sight granted by the moon, destined to make her an outcast, and the only thing that might save her and those she loves from becoming the next victims . . .

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Review

Blood and Moonlight combines medieval architecture, a murder mystery, and fantasy to create a compelling story unique in the YA scene. Multi-faceted characters kept me riveted to the pages, as they attempted to get into the mind of a serial killer and stop him before his victims pile even higher.

To some extent, I think this is the book Four Dead Queens hoped to be (and failed, in my opinion). It expertly combines three genres — historical fiction, fantasy, and mystery — and does it seamlessly. The “main” plot is solving the murder, but Cat’s magic powers are integral to the process, as is her status as a worker at the Sanctum and her knowledge of architecture. None of the parts seem out of place or as if they are distracting from the others. They are all fully developed, from the magic system to the world building, and they work together perfectly. The result is a book that feels different, even if you’re an avid reader of YA fantasy.

Personally, I did find the lengthy discussions of what the killer was doing and probably thinking a bit much, and at times I didn’t really “get” it — and then I struggled with not connecting with it or thinking it sounded right because I have to believe that the author spent a lot of time researching the minds of serial killers while I have . . . spent literally zero time doing so. That is, the author and the characters are probably right, so I’m not quite sure why some of the speculation sounded off to me.

The best part is: I really had no idea who the killer was throughout the entire novel. I was like the characters themselves, going back and forth suspecting one person, then another, then another, then the first person. I couldn’t figure it out, and I always love a book that is truly unpredictable.

This is a must-read book this year for anyone who loves YA.

Briana
4 stars

Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf

Information

Goodreads: Queen of the Tiles
Series: None
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2022

Summary

Najwa Bakri left the competitive Scrabble tournament scene one year ago, when her best friend Tina Low died at the Scrabble table. Now, she’s back, attempting work through her grief and her panic attacks at the same venue where Trina died. But then Trina’s Instagram account starts posting again. Could it be that Trina’s death was actually murder?

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Review

Queen of the Tiles lured me in–as I have no doubt it will many a word lover–with the intriguing premise of a mystery set in the world of competitive Scrabble. However, while I enjoyed learning more about Scrabble tournaments, and the people who compete in them, I admit to finding the mystery itself lackluster. The plot is slow to start, the sleuthing sort of haphazard, and the drama almost nonexistent. I never really felt that Najwa or her friends were in danger–there was simply no suspense. Read Queen of the Tiles if you really love Scrabble, but maybe pass if you have high standards for thrillers.

Queen of the Tiles is probably more accurately described as a novel about grief, and not really a thriller. The mystery surrounding Trina Low, previous reigning champion of the Scrabble tournament scene, is more or less a set up for the main character, Najwa, to explore her feelings about a friendship where she constantly took backseat to Trina’s wants and desires. The book is Najwa’s journey to accepting what everyone else already seems to know–Trina was not a nice person. As such, it is admittedly difficult to really care about the mystery, since no one (aside from Najwa) really seems to mourn Trina’s loss (shocking and horrible as that may be). Also, the mystery is simply not that mysterious.

No one really finds Trina’s death suspicious until when, one year later, at the same Scrabble tournament venue where she died, Trina’s Instagram starts posting again. The posts are all scrambled letters, clues to decipher. Only Najwa and Trina’s former boyfriend Mark seem to care about the clues, though. Everyone else is content to feel a bit of unease or brush it off as a really bad prank. Because of this, there is no ambience of mystery, no feeling of suspense that bad things could happen. The plot just slowly meanders on to its, frankly, anticlimactic finale.

Queen of the Tiles has an intriguing premise, but fails to deliver. While I was drawn in by the promise of a high-stakes Scrabble tournament and a thrilling mystery, the drama is fairly low-key. Read this only if you really love Scrabble.

3 Stars

Cinder & Glass by Melissa de la Cruz

Cinder and Glass book cover

Information

Goodreads: Cinder & Glass
Series: None
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Giveaway from Penguin
Published: March 8, 2022

Official Summary

1682. The king sends out an invitation to all the maidens in France: their presence is requested at a number of balls and events that will be held in honor of the dashing Prince Louis, who must choose a bride.

Cendrillon de Louvois has more grace, beauty, and charm than anyone else in France. While she was once the darling child of the king’s favorite adviser, her father’s death has turned her into the servant of her stepmother and cruel stepsisters–and at her own chateau, too!

Cendrillon–now called Cinder–manages to evade her stepmother and attend the ball, where she catches the eye of the handsome Prince Louis and his younger brother Auguste.

Even though Cendrillon has an immediate aversion to Louis, and a connection with Auguste, the only way to escape her stepmother is to compete with the other women at court for the Prince’s hand.

Soon, as Cendrillon glows closer to Auguste and dislikes the prince more and more, she will have to decide if she can bear losing the boy she loves in order to leave a life she hates.

Melissa de la Cruz takes a lush, romantic hand to this retold fairy tale classic.

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Review

Cinder & Glass strikes me as the type of book I would have enjoyed reading as an actual teen, a time both when the YA market wasn’t as saturated with wildly good, sweeping fantasy as it is now and when my own personal standards for being impressed weren’t so high, purely because I hadn’t read as many books as I have now that I’m older. That is, Cinder & Glass is a perfectly good, serviceable retelling of “Cinderella” that will be a fun, light read for someone who likes “Cinderella” retellings, but it just isn’t particularly memorable and doesn’t add any really original twists to the story.

This is a nice choice for readers wondering where all the “lower YA” has gone, in a market that seems dominated by really dark and mature YA books. If you want a light romance that mostly sticks to kissing and a book that has obstacles and set-backs for the protagonists but that doesn’t delve deep into cruelty, abuse, exploitation, dark magic, etc., then this is definitely a book to look into. It is, truly, simply a retelling of “Cinderella” set in 17th-century France, following the basic storyline one would expect. The main spin-off is that the second half of the book, instead of featuring simply a ball, involves a bit of a “contest” among various women the prince might pick for his wife (imagine something along the lines of The Selection).

I am on the fence about the pacing of the book, however, and whether things like the eligible maiden contest and the romances in general felt rushed. Part of me thinks they are; part of me appreciates a nice YA standalone that just gets the job done and wrapped out, rather than drawing everything out into a dramatic and lengthy trilogy. This is another reason the book reminds me of the YA published when I was a teen myself and why I think it works nicely as a lower YA recommendation.

So . . . this book is fine; my biggest problem is that I don’t have much to say about it beyond that. It fills a niche I think has been left empty in the current YA market for some time, so if you have a job where you recommend books to others, this is worth keeping in mind. If you are personally an avid reader of YA fantasy and retellings, this one is not likely to stand out to you.

Briana
3 Stars

Hotel Magnifique by Emily J. Taylor

Hotel Magnifique book cover

Information

Goodreads: Hotel Magnifique
Series: None
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Purchased
Published: April 5, 2022

Official Summary

All her life, Jani has dreamed of Elsewhere. Just barely scraping by with her job at a tannery, she’s resigned to a dreary life in the port town of Durc, caring for her younger sister Zosa. That is, until the Hotel Magnifique comes to town.

The hotel is legendary not only for its whimsical enchantments, but also for its ability to travel—appearing in a different destination every morning. While Jani and Zosa can’t afford the exorbitant costs of a guest’s stay, they can interview to join the staff, and are soon whisked away on the greatest adventure of their lives. But once inside, Jani quickly discovers their contracts are unbreakable and that beneath the marvelous glamour, the hotel is hiding dangerous secrets.

With the vexingly handsome doorman Bel as her only ally, Jani embarks on a mission to unravel the mystery of the magic at the heart of the hotel and free Zosa—and the other staff—from the cruelty of the ruthless maître d’hôtel. To succeed, she’ll have to risk everything she loves, but failure would mean a fate far worse than never returning home.

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Review

Hotel Magnifique is a riveting fantasy that takes readers on a journey with protagonist Jani as she snares a coveted position working in the world’s most (okay, only) magical hotel — and slowly begins to realize things might not be as glamorous as they seem. The lush world building, dazzling magic, sense of mystery, and strong family ties makes this a story very worth reading.

A lot books get compared to both Caraval and The Night Circus; apparently setting a book in a contained magical space in world where little else is magical is enough to earn the comparison. Personally, I didn’t love Caraval because it was extremely hyped at the time of its release, and I felt I get a very standard YA instead of something exceptional. I think Hotel Magnifique blows Caraval out of the water; it is an immensely better book. As for The Night Circus? I don’t know what Hotel Magnifique is really supposed to have in common with it.

The strongest part of the story may be that, while magic is embedded everywhere and the author does a great job of building the atmosphere and telling readers about the wondrous things that can be seen in the hotel, the setting and wonder are never really the point. The book focuses on plot and characterization; the real draw is the mystery of what exactly is going on in the hotel and then the tension of whether Jani will be able to save herself and her sister before it’s too late. I couldn’t stop myself from turning to pages to see how everything would turn out.

The book’s one flaw is that, while the sisters’ relationship is integral to the story . . . Jani’s little sister is actually mostly absent from the text. Readers have to see most of their love through Jani’s reflections and memories. I feel like this is common in a lot of YA that supposedly focuses on siblings, for whatever reason, and I would love to see more stories where the siblings spend the majority of the story interacting with one another.

Overall, this was excellent, definitely one of my top reads so far this year. If you love YA fantasy, you don’t want to skip this one.

Note: I would like to note that both the summary and the story reference “Elsewhere” as if it’s an actual place, like Neverland or Narnia or something. In fact, “Elsewhere” just means . . . travelling. The protagonist and the hotel guests just want to go places beyond their home, places they could reasonably get to by using a boat or horse if they had the means. I’m not sure why “Elsewhere” is used so confusingly here.

Briana
5 stars

Forging Silver into Stars by Brigid Kemmerer (ARC Review, No Spoilers)

Information

Goodreads: Forging Silver into Stars
Series: Forging Silver into Stars #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Netgalley for review
Publication Date: June 7, 2022

Official Summary

When ancient magic tests a newfound love, a dark fate beckons . . .

Magic has been banished in the land of Syhl Shallow for as long as best friends Jax and Callyn can remember. They once loved the stories of the powerful magesmiths and mythical scravers who could conjure fire or control ice, but now they’ve learned that magic only leads to danger: magic is what killed Callyn’s parents, leaving her alone to raise her younger sister. Magic never helped Jax, whose leg was crushed in an accident that his father has been punishing him for ever since. Magic won’t save either of them when the tax collector comes calling, threatening to take their homes if they can’t pay what they owe.

Meanwhile, Jax and Callyn are astonished to learn magic has returned to Syhl Shallow — in the form of a magesmith who’s now married to their queen. Now, the people of Syhl Shallow are expected to allow dangerous magic in their midst, and no one is happy about it.

When a stranger rides into town offering Jax and Callyn silver in exchange for holding secret messages for an anti-magic faction, the choice is obvious — even if it means they may be aiding in a plot to destroy their new king. It’s a risk they’re both willing to take. That is, until another visitor arrives: handsome Lord Tycho, the King’s Courier, the man who’s been tasked with discovering who’s conspiring against the throne.

Suddenly, Jax and Callyn find themselves embroiled in a world of shifting alliances, dangerous flirtations, and ancient magic . . . where even the deepest loyalties will be tested.

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Review

Brigid Kemmerer hooked me on the Cursebreakers series with the swoon-worthy romance in A Curse So Dark and Lonely, but Forging Silver into Stars is the book that has convinced me she’s finally come into her own as an expert fantasy writer. (Her contemporary YA has always been excellent, though not as popular.) With complex characterization, cleaner world building, and a plot focused on magic and assassinations and just pure survival, there’s a lot to keep readers turning the pages.

I have always loved the action and adventure, as well as the romance, in Kemmerer’s fantasy, but I had reservations about her attempts at nuanced characterizations. I always thought her attempts to paint characters (especially Rhen and Grey) in shades of, um, gray fell flat, as the book would try to excuse actions that seemed obviously cruel and wrong to me and suggest they were somehow necessary or sympathetic. This was much less of an issue for me in Forging Silver into Stars, and it really elevated the reading experience.

Kemmerer is still interested in what makes people tick, what choices they will make to survive or support their families or defend their questions. There are still characters who might be doing the right things for the wrong reasons or the wrong things for the right reasons, and the book still asks readers to consider whether the “villains” might have some valid points. It just . . . works a lot better in this book, and I love that Kemmerer continues to work through these questions and has landed on (for me) some more reasonable answers. There are still references to Rhen and Grey glossing over their past decisions, which I continue to find unconvincing, but I love all the newly introduced characters and all their complexities.

The politics, the disputes, and what exactly is at stake in the two kingdoms now that Syhl Shallow and Emberfall are allied through marriage are also smoother here, and I think Kemmerer has learned a lot about making the political issues logically click, as well.

With the characterization and world building ironed out, I was also able to focus more on the plot, which is engaging. While there were a few times I felt the book was a little long, in general I was extremely interested to find out what happened next, and I enjoyed the shifting of POVs among Jax, Callyn, and Tycho. There’s also romance to spare in this book, as well as cute family relationships, and a lot of questions about magic that have yet to be unraveled throughout the series.

If you enjoyed the Cursebreakers trilogy, you will certainly love this continuation. If you were on the fence, I think it’s worth picking this up and giving Kemmerer another shot, as her writing only continues to improve.

Note: This is a separate trilogy from Cursebreakers and takes place four years after A Vow So Bold and Deadly, so technically it can be read separately. However, so many characters from the original trilogy and so many events are referenced that personally I think it would make more sense to read the original trilogy before tackling this one.

Briana
4 stars

Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen (ARC Review)

Violet Made of Thorns book cover

Information

Goodreads: Violet Made of Thorns
Series: Untitled Duology #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Netgalley
Publication Date: July 26, 2022

Official Summary

Violet is a prophet and a liar, influencing the royal court with her cleverly phrased—and not always true—divinations. Honesty is for suckers, like the oh-so-not charming Prince Cyrus, who plans to strip Violet of her official role once he’s crowned at the end of the summer—unless Violet does something about it.

But when the king asks her to falsely prophesy Cyrus’s love story for an upcoming ball, Violet awakens a dreaded curse, one that will end in either damnation or salvation for the kingdom—all depending on the prince’s choice of future bride. Violet faces her own choice: Seize an opportunity to gain control of her own destiny, no matter the cost, or give in to the ill-fated attraction that’s growing between her and Cyrus.

Violet’s wits may protect her in the cutthroat court, but they can’t change her fate. And as the boundary between hatred and love grows ever thinner with the prince, Violet must untangle a wicked web of deceit in order to save herself and the kingdom—or doom them all.

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Review

Violet Among Thorns takes readers to a fantastical kingdom where war is on the horizon and only the prince can stop it by fulfilling a prophecy related to finding his true love– an endeavor he, unfortunately, seems in no rush to complete. Magic and prophecies and intrigue wind together as various characters work towards their own ends and try to keep the prophecy of destruction from coming true.

There is a lot going on in this book, but that often makes it entertaining to read. Protagonist Violet needs to navigate Fates and kings and visions and royal balls and help keep the nation running smoothly, especially because her own position as royal Seer is on the line. Little snippets of other fairy tales like “Cinderella” are woven in, and readers may have fun spotting them, but the plot is largely original and takes a few twists and turns.

Unfortunately, the characterization didn’t work for me. I understand Violet is supposed to be an antiheroine, and I don’t need protagonists to be “likable” if they’re interesting– but it does help if I can understand the motivations of an antiheroine or if I actually think she’s clever. Here, readers get a character who is, arguably, not very good at being a Seer and who is unnecessarily hostile to and judgmental of everyone around her. It’s horrid if they’re all fake rich people out for themselves, apparently, but fine when it’s her. And, frankly, she’s not even witty. There’s a difference between walking around insulting everyone and flinging clever insults at them. Basically, I felt she was annoying and ungrateful and wasn’t really good at being a Seer or being smart or . . . anything that would have at least made her interesting beyond, “She’s not afraid to be rude to everyone.”

The romance is also lackluster. There are a lot of make out scenes, but there is zero chemistry between the two characters, and even they seem at a bit of a loss to explain why they are attracted to each other besides some vague idea they like that the other person is rude to them and the whole thing has a forbidden romance air. Again, I wouldn’t exactly say they are having sexually tense witty banter at each other’s expense; they just seem to say obnoxious things to each other that aren’t truly that penetrating or humorous.

So, there’s a lot to like here, in terms of mysteries and magic and an exciting plot, as well as political intrigue within Violet’s court and between her kingdom and others. I do wish the main characters had been better-developed, but I still think a lot of readers will enjoy this one.

Briana
3 Stars

The Enigma Game by Elizabeth Wein

The Enigma Game by Elizabeth Wein

Information

Goodreads: The Enigma Game
Series: Code Name Verity #2
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Summary

Fifteen-year-old Louisa Adair travels to Scotland to take care of Jane, an elderly German-born woman recently released from prison, allegedly for being a danger to the nation. At the inn where the two reside, a German defector risks his life to drop off a code-breaking machine. Soon, Louisa and Jane get Ellen McEwan, a volunteer driver at the local airfield, and Jamie Beaufort-Stuart, a bomber pilot, involved in their code breaking operation, which seems to gift Jamie’s squad with incredible luck. But then intelligence gets word and they want the machine.

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Review

The Enigma Game is another brilliant addition to the Code Name Verity series–this time a prequel to Code Name Verity that provides the background story for a line dropped about Jamie’s bomber squad experience. It introduces a range of new, lovable characters–including Louisa Adair, the teenage daughter of a Jamaican father and English mother, and Jane, an elderly woman of German origin just recently released from detainment–as well as old favorites such as Ellen McEwan and Jamie Beaufort-Stuart. Their relationships, forged in wartime, stand at the heart of a gripping WWII story featuring code breaking, fighter planes, and espionage. Another winning tale from Elizabeth Wein.

A new point-of-view character, Louisa, carries the story with her youthful earnestness and pure desire to do something to help win the war. Although she is only fifteen, her parents have both been killed by the war, and she is forced to find a job that will enable her to support herself–no easy task when people are reluctant to hire her because of the color of her skin. A phone interview, however, leads her to a lucky break–to be the caregiver for an elderly woman named Jane whom others are afraid to be associated with, because she was born in Germany. Louisa’s determination, her optimism, and her cleverness all make her a charming heroine, one readers are sure to fall immediately in love with.

Though the summary of the book promises a fair bit of excitement with the introduction of the Enigma Machine to Britain, The Enigma Game succeeds not because of the twists and intrigue, but because it depicts a vivid image of life on the British homefront during WWII. The characters, and not so much their unusual circumstances, form the heart of the story– one about belonging. Louisa and Jane’s status as outcasts (along with Ellen McEwen, who has been hiding her background as a Traveller, now that she has a “respectable” job as a volunteer at the airfield) is crucial to readers’ understanding of what it was like to be alive during WWII. Though Louisa and Jane and Ellen are all capable, brave, and clever, they are limited in what they allowed to do, how much they are allowed to sacrifice. And, so, they form their own secret spy network of sorts. And that is the great shame The Enigma Game reveals; the nation people may love does not always love them back.

The Enigma Game works wonderfully as an addition to the Code Name Verity series, bringing back old favorites while also introducing new characters that will find a place in readers’ hearts. It also works as a fine standalone, however, offering reflections on who is offered a place in society, and how societal change can be enacted. The courage of these characters is not just in facing a wartime enemy, but in confronting the darkness of their own society. And that is a message that remains always relevant.

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5 stars

What Order Should You Read the Code Name Verity Books In?

In What Order Should You Read the Code Name Verity Books?

Though many readers are familiar with Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, not everyone realizes that the book is part of a series of companion books that follow various characters before and during WWII. There are various orders one could use to read the series. Below are my suggestions.

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My Recommended Order

My reasoning: Code Name Verity is arguably the strongest installment in the series so far. Its combines powerful emotion with an inventive narrative technique. Read this book first, and you will be hooked.

Rose Under Fire comes next naturally, as it takes place a few months after Code Name Verity and deals with the aftermath of the events of that book. It is a powerful book in its own right. But reading it before CNV will mean spoiling CNV.

The Enigma Game takes place chronologically before Code Name Verity and after The Pearl Thief. It takes a reference to Jamie Beaufort-Stuart from CNV and uses that as its starting point. Much of the fun of this book comes from recognizing characters one grew to love from CNV and RUF.

The Pearl Thief is arguably the weakest book of the series. Its main charm is that it follows one of the characters from CNV and tells of a light adventure that takes place before the war. It will have more of an emotional impact for readers familiar with CNV.

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Possible Order #2

  • Code Name Verity
  • Rose Under Fire
  • The Pearl Thief
  • The Enigma Game

My reasoning: As I note above, Code Name Verity is an incredibly powerful book and it makes sense as a starting point to draw readers in. Rose Under Fire needs to be read immediately after CNV since it deals with the aftermath of the events of CNV. However, one could conceivably read The Pearl Thief before The Enigma Game since neither will spoiler the other. Reading The Enigma Game after The Pearl Thief makes sense because it contains a short reference to The Pearl Thief that could be fun to catch–and because it makes one of the side characters from The Pearl Thief into a point-of-view character.

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Possible Order #3

  • The Enigma Game
  • Code Name Verity
  • Rose Under Fire
  • The Pearl Thief

My reasoning: Since The Enigma Game comes chronologically before CNV and RUF, it does make sense as a starting point. It also gives the backstory of a line mentioned in CNV about Jamie’s experience in a bomber squad. I still would suggest reading The Pearl Thief last since I find it the weakest in the series and, again, I think its main appeal to readers is that it resonates with people familiar with the events of CNV who enjoy seeing the characters in that book enjoying a simpler time, their lives yet unspoiled by war.

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Chronological Order

  • The Pearl Thief
  • The Enigma Game
  • Code Name Verity
  • Rose Under Fire

I really would not recommend starting with The Pearl Thief since, as stated above, I think it is the weakest book in the series and its impact comes from having read Code Name Verity. But, if you like reading books in chronological order, this would be the way.

What order would you recommend reading the Code Name Verity series in?

Roxy by Neal Shusterman & Jarrod Shusterman

Roxy

Information

GoodreadsRoxy
Series: None
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Summary

Roxy (Oxycotin) is the hottest thing in town, the life of the Party. Addison (Adderall) is the straight-laced one, tired of being overlooked because all he does is help people. The two place a wager: whoever can bring a plus one to the Party and take them all the way to the VIP lounge and beyond wins. The victims? Issac Ramsey, about to meet Roxy when he sustains an ankle injury. And his sister Ivy, who needs to get her act together before she flunks out of her senior year of high school. Only one will make it out alive. From the father and son duo who wrote Dry.

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Review

Roxy continues Neal Shusterman’s theme of writing books for teens that tackle difficult topics–everything from the abortion debate to racism to philosophical questions life and death. In Roxy, Shusterman and his son Jarrod address drug addiction through the unique method of treating drugs as personalities akin to Greek gods: Roxy (oxycotin) and Addison (Adderall) challenge each other to a contest. They will each take one of the Ramsey siblings and, whoever gets their victim to the Party first (that is, gets them to overdose) wins. While the book raises important questions, however, readers may find that the effectiveness of the strategy is debatable.

The structure of Roxy is certainly intriguing. It provides a unique approach to a difficult topic, showcasing the allure of the substances to which the Ramsey siblings are attracted, but also suggesting that these substances are heartless “gods” who care nothing for their victims. They promise everything, but often deliver only pain and suffering. They can be used effectively, but have a flip side that makes them dangerous. Just like the Greek gods–sometimes they help and sometimes they harm, and it all seems so very arbitrary.

The structure of the book, however, is also something that some readers may not find engaging. With its switching perspectives and slow build-up, it is not quite like anything else currently on the YA market. The YA market often thrives on similar, predictable, fast-paced narratives that are easy to consume. Roxy breaks the mold, which is something that can either launch a book to fame or cause more lukewarm reviews. Reader reaction will vary.

The structure does have other drawbacks, though. Pitting Roxy against Addison is never going to be a fair fight, and it seems a bit odd to suggest that the match is one between equals. The opioid crisis seems far more serious than someone taking Adderall to function at school, but using the conceit of a “duel” of sorts to pit Roxy and Addison against each other suggests that they are on the same level. The authors seem to want to illustrate that Addison is merely a tool, one that can be misused. And, okay. Tools are neutral. They can be used for good or ill. But upping one’s intake of Addison without a doctor’s input does not seem quite the same as becoming addicted to Roxy. And I suspect many readers will be confused by this particular pairing.

This conceit also arguably ruins some of the suspense of the book. The slow build up is all to see which one of the Ramsey siblings will overdose–something readers are definitively told will happen in the opening pages. But…is it really a contest? The Shustermans try their best, of course, to add twists, having the siblings on the verge of getting help, then veering away as new complications arise. But savvy readers will likely know which Ramsey it is from the start.

This is an interesting take, but addressing the opioid crises in a teen book arguably could be done more effectively than it is done here. Making Roxy and Addison alluring god-like creatures does not entirely give the subject the gravity it deserves, and the conceit of the contest does not feel compelling when it is like Zeus challenging a minor deity to a contest. I give the authors credit for trying, but this is not Shusterman’s best work.

3 Stars

Gilded by Marissa Meyer

Gilded by Marissa Meyer Book Cover

Information

GoodreadsGilded
Series: Gilded #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Gift
Published: 2021

Official Summary

Long ago cursed by the god of lies, a poor miller’s daughter has developed a talent for spinning stories that are fantastical and spellbinding and entirely untrue.

Or so everyone believes.

When one of Serilda’s outlandish tales draws the attention of the sinister Erlking and his undead hunters, she finds herself swept away into a grim world where ghouls and phantoms prowl the earth and hollow-eyed ravens track her every move. The king orders Serilda to complete the impossible task of spinning straw into gold, or be killed for telling falsehoods. In her desperation, Serilda unwittingly summons a mysterious boy to her aid. He agrees to help her . . . for a price.

Soon Serilda realizes that there is more than one secret hidden in the castle walls, including an ancient curse that must be broken if she hopes to end the tyranny of the king and his wild hunt forever.

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Review

Gilded is a wonderfully atmosphere fantasy that blends darkness and romance to create a tale that feels so immersive, readers will never want to leave. Based on the fairy tale “Rumpelstiltskin,” the book quickly makes the story its own, adding in elements of the Wild Hunt, as well as an original mythology that includes gods and their curses and their gifts. Anyone who enjoys a highly inventive fairy tale retelling is sure to fall in love with Marissa Meyer’s Gilded.

Gilded immediately draws readers into the story through Serilda’s voice. Blessed by the god of lies (or stories), Serilda is a tricky character to write; readers must be convinced that she really does possess the ability to make a person believe anything, to spin a tale so wondrous that it leaves her listeners enraptured. Meyer writes her beautifully. Serilda is spunky and bold, kind and caring–and one marvel of a storyteller. The tales she weaves, far from interrupting the main story, add to it. They have the feeling and flavor of an old fairy tale, the kind that would draw people around the fire to listen, and then have them checking that the doors are locked, lest the spirits of the dead find a way in.

Meyer moves the story effortlessly from Serilda’s village, immersed in folklore and flavored by the joys and frustrations of life where everyone knows everyone, to the castle of the Erlking, which gives the book a darker note; here, Serilda’s stories are real, and not everyone gets out alive. The worldbuilding is extraordinary, deepened by the world’s history and mythology. Readers will love exploring a world where the magical and the ordinary exist side by side, the veil being pierced on occasions when the Wild Hunt can race across the land of the living, seeking their prey. What is terrifying and what is wonderful are sometimes one and the same–and that is the magic of Serilda’s world.

Readers who enjoy YA fairy retellings will not want to miss out on Gilded, its bold protagonist, and its sweet but sorrowful romance. This is a fantasy sure to ensnare the hearts of readers.

*The sequel to Gilded, Cursed, is currently listed for a November 2022 release.

5 stars